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Sober Look had an excellent round-up of the potential causes of the coming “fiscal cliff” as the year ends, but The Economist also has a nice piece out tonight on the 30,000 foot view here:

“AMERICANS have watched austerity sweep Europe with a certain Schadenfreude. But eight months from now they may get a dose of the same medicine. The political compromises that have produced much of America’s deficit of 8% of GDP are programmed to go into reverse at the end of the year, two months after the election. A stimulus package consisting of a payroll-tax cut, investment tax credit and enhanced unemployment insurance expires then, as do George W. Bush’s tax cuts (which have already been extended by two years from their original end-date of 2010). At the same time an automatic, across-the-board cut in domestic and defence spending, called a “sequester”, takes effect, cutting about $100 billion from government spending next year.

The economic impact of this fiscal cliff is a matter of some debate. The Congressional Budget Office reckons that the combined effects of the sequester and the expiring tax cuts would add up to 3.6% of GDP in fiscal 2013. But David Greenlaw of Morgan Stanley, which puts the total effect at almost $700 billion at an annual rate, argues that the calendar-year impact is much larger, at around 5%. Others think the effect would be smaller, noting that some people will not experience the full tax hit until they file their returns in 2014.

Even the lower estimates could easily be enough to tip the economy back into recession. Mr Greenlaw says the closest precedent was in 1968, when individual, corporate, excise and payroll taxes collectively rose by the equivalent of 3.1% of GDP, mostly to pay for the Vietnam war and to damp down inflation. The next year, the economy fell into recession.”

It’s no secret by now that austerity has pulverized nations in a balance sheet recession and that budget deficits have helped sustain growth in others.  So as we head into late 2012 and 2013 we should be keeping a close eye on developments here.  As I’ve previously noted, the balance sheet recession effect is waning in the USA, but pulling the rug out from under us in 2013 could be a colossal mistake….Stay tuned.

PS – Q&A will be finished tomorrow….

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